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Cancer research funds sought

State Capitol Bureau ST.

State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Studies exploring the cause of a rare lung cancer among Iron Range miners are moving forward even as lawmakers consider how to fund the research.

University of Minnesota officials told a House panel Wednesday they plan four studies related to the mesothelioma cases and other health issues for taconite industry employees and communities, following the release of data pointing to an abnormally high rate of the cancer among mine workers.

Lawmakers say completion of the multiyear research is important because previous efforts to look into the health effects of mining never were finished.

"What we're trying to do is get to the bottom of this once and for all," said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia.

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Rukavina and other Iron Range legislators are seeking $4.9 million for the research. The studies are being led by the university's School of Public Health and the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

The Minnesota Health Department in 2007 linked the deaths of 58 mining industry workers to mesothelioma, which is believed to be caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure.

The research will include studying the cause of death of an estimated 70,000 people who worked in the state's taconite mines from the 1950s to the 1980s. Researchers also will evaluate current and former miners to determine whether there is a link between health conditions and time spent in the mines. They also will compare the exposure to potentially harmful materials by the 58 mesothelioma victims and others who did not develop the cancer.

Lawmakers sought the university's assistance last year after former Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach confirmed that the agency had withheld data about mesothelioma cases.

Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com

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